Thursday 30th September 2010, Boldogasszonyfa, Hungary
We are camping all alone beside a fishing lake where during the summer fishermen arrive hopeful of catching a carp to barbeque during the evening as they camp beside the water, happily enjoying a bottle or two of Villány wine and some peach pálinka. Tonight though we have only a friendly little dog for company and it is too cold and clammy to venture outside of Modestine. We do however have our five litre canister of really delicious Villány wine so life is not at all bad really.
Before leaving Pécs this morning we had an interesting discussion in German with the campsite lady whom we had previously found so charming. She is still very friendly but we were taken aback to discover how strongly she feels about different nationalities living in Hungary and is convinced that much of Hungary's land has been taken from them. To some extent this is true. It used to own Transylvania and areas now in Croatia, Serbia and Slovakia. She claimed that the Hungarians had been in the area for more than two thousand years, perhaps as many as four thousand (a distorted view of history as the Magyars only entered the area in the late ninth century AD). She says she was born in Transylvania when it was part of Hungary and she objects to it now being part of Romania. Erdély, as the Hungarians call it, was ceded to Romania under the treaty of Trianon in 1920. Hitler later returned it briefly to Hungary around 1940 (which is presumably when this lady was born). However, in 1945 it was again made part of Romania and has remained so ever since. Many Hungarians, both here and in Transylvania, want it returned to Hungary but this lady quite openly told us that it was a good thing Hitler gave it back to them and they should have hung on to it then no matter what! The only reason he did this was because Hungary sided with him during the Second World War but that didn't seem to worry her at all.
She spoke of the problems of the Romanian gypsies coming into Hungary and then complained about the Jews. There were too many of them and they were buying up property all over Hungary, she complained. We mentioned that there were far fewer than before the war. She told us Hungary's current problems were the fault of the Israelis. They live in a barren land out in the desert and they are buying up properties here in this fertile and beautiful country. There are far too many Israelis with properties in Budapest. But, she told us, you also have problems in England with all the people from India and Pakistan. We found the conversation uncomfortable and slunk away, anxious not to get involved in an argument in a language that was not our own.
So we drove through Pécs and out into the countryside, along peaceful roads, through pleasant little villages to the rural old town of Szigetvár. Until we arrived we had no idea how important the town has been in the history of Hungary for its heroic defence against the Turks. The name means Island Castle. Originally the fortified castle was set in a marshy lake and held out against various attacks by invading Turks.
Now the castle is a massive red brick ruin with pleasant gardens inside its walls and the marshes have been drained. However, in 1566 the castle was besieged by the 60,000 strong Turkish forces under Süleyman the Magnificent. The castle was under the command of the Viceroy of Croatia Zrinyi Miklós with a force of 2,400 men. The Hungarians held out until only a handful of the troops survived before breaking out from the castle on a final suicidal attack against the Turks. Meanwhile, Süleyman had died from apoplexy back at his camp a few kilometres north of Szigetvár. Today Zrinyi Miklós is a national hero and is honoured everywhere throughout the town with squares and schools named after him and statues of him outside many of the important buildings. Süleyman's entrails were buried near the site of his tent in which he died. A monument was erected there by the Turks but this has since been pulled down.
The heroic stand of Zrinyi Miklós has been honoured by Hungarians ever since. The event is taught in schools, there are plays, poetry and music celebrating what to Hungarians has become a call to freedom. His grandson wrote an epic about the event that has been set to music by Kodály and we even saw a poster advertising the tale in a rock musical!
The town itself is very pleasant with several buildings of interest including a modern cultural centre and a curious Art Nouveau building now a school. There is a Turkish house that can be visited though by the time we discovered it, it had closed.
The cultural centre – a very bizarre structure by the eccentric Hungarian architect Makovecz - was a very useful discovery enabling us to spend a couple of hours using their internet. It's an awful waste of time during the day but we left having sorted out many of our problems. Getting access is essential for so many things and sometimes it can be surprisingly difficult.
We realised we were hungry. The nearby restaurant offered no choice, which was good as our Hungarian isn't really up to understanding the finer points of menus. We sat there and were served a huge bowl of mushroom soup with noodles and paprika followed by port cutlet with vegetable rice, pickled gherkins and yellow peppers. It was so copious we've not eaten at all this evening.
At the castle ruins I lost Ian somewhere while I was browsing an interesting exhibition of pastels and watercolours of local scenes. I eventually discovered him in the remains of the Turkish mosque drinking plum palinka with a Croatian artist wearing a beret who was creating a gigantic painted sand sculpture in the form of a Buddhist mandala on the floor of the mosque! They'd got talking in German and by the time I found them they were inseparable buddies.
Driving north from Szigetvár we discovered the Hungarian-Turkish Friendship Park. This was established in 1994, set up by Turkey, presumably as an apology for the past. It was essentially Turkish in design with large sculptures of both Süleyman the Magnificent and Zrinyi Miklós. It struck us as one of those bright ideas thought up by local politicians but we wonder quite how enthusiastic the residents of Szigetvár really are to have such a monument just outside the town.
Arriving at the campsite this evening we hopefully enquired whether they spoke English or German. No, they said, but what did that matter when Ian could speak Hungarian! A nice compliment that proved to be true. Between us all we sorted out all we needed to know and Ian discovered even more words in his vocabulary that he never realised were sitting there waiting their chance to come out! The friendly dog then took us in hand, leading us along the lakeside for a stroll before darkness fell. He even took us to look at his kennel on our way back to Modestine!
Friday 1st October 2010, Keszthely, Hungary
The day started with me knocking over a thermos full of boiling water in Modestine, shattering the glass and making rather a mess. After that we discovered our canister of wine had fallen over and the lid leaked. Everything has been a bit damp and red for most of the day but we've just about dried out now. Fortunately we have another thermos and most of the wine has been saved so all is well.
It has been dry but very chilly all day. This morning we drove to Kaposvár. It proved to be a very pleasant town and with more time we could have gone into it in far greater depth. It has several museums but we contented ourselves with one, choosing it because we thought it was free. It turned out we had to pay and we were too chicken to leave. We knew nothing about the painter, János Vaszvary, 1867-1939 who came from the town. His work was rather impressionistic and there were only a few canvases on display. We were not bowled over. There were some rather nice totally unconnected pieces of bamboo furniture and some delightfully engraved certificates that had been presented to the painter at European competitions in Milan, Budapest and Paris, so the visit had something of interest after all.
The town is largely pedestrianised. It is clean and smart with a good range of shops. Hungary has always delighted in public sculptures, either of great warriors of the past, important politicians, or simply bronze statues for joie de vivre, to enliven a shopping precinct or a corner of a park. We found several examples of the latter in Kaposvár. They were really delightful.
Around lunch time we found a very good restaurant serving a set price menu. The place was crowded so we selected whatever it was everyone else was having. It turned out to be a thick goulash soup with lentils and bacon, followed by what, in Hungary, can only be described as pasta in a fur coat with peach coulis! The ribbon pasta seemed to have been dipped in breadcrumbs and a large blob of jam put on top. It tasted fine but was not in the least what we expected. Over a coffee we used the restaurant's wifi which was a real bonus.
We browsed one of the bookshops. It had an excellent stock with many familiar works translated into Hungarian.
For convenience, to avoid splitting our stay in Keszthely, the rest of today's activities are recounted in our next report.